My mission to see the George Nelson show at the Cranbrook Art Museum turned into a full afternoon touring some the grounds and the Saarinen House on what had to be the first beautiful Fall day of 2012. Indeed to see everything Cranbrook has to offer, would take more than an afternoon but a museum show, a house tour, some fantastic sculpture & architecture, plus beautiful weather was a perfect day in my book.
You would think growing up just a few miles from this iconic institution I would be well versed in its history and landscape. But in truth, even though my mother was a big supporter of many artists in residence here, and my sister well ensconced in the jewelry making community throughout her high school years, and despite yearly school trips to the Science Institute, summer day camp here when i was very young and friends who went to high school here, I was mostly unaware of the treasure that lay right in my back yard.
Not only is Cranbrook beautiful with its rolling hills, Tudor style and Modern architecture mix, its sculptures and water features galore . . . it has been home to some of the most amazing 20th century minds the world of art and design has ever known: Eliel Saarenin, Ero Saarenin, Ray & Charles Eames,* Harry Betoia, Floence Knoll, Fumihiko Maki, Daniel Libeskind, Keith Haring, and the list goes on and on. . .
*I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when Ray Kaiser met Charles Eames and started what was undoubtedly the most prolific and influential design partnership of our time. (He was a married professor, she was a student — quelle scandale!)
Having missed the sign up for the tour of the Saarinen House (Eliel Saarinen designed the school in its entirety back in the 1930’s. In recent years modern buildings have been added by the likes of Stephen Holl and Todd Williams & Billie Tsien) when 2PM came around I may have just invited myself to join in. Bad I know, but I’m glad I did as it was a real treat.
Designed in the classic Tudor style, the home has been recently restored. The stories of what had been done to it over the years will make you want to weep but today it is nearly an exact replica of how it was when the Saarinen family lived here. You will be amazed by the modern influences found within — extremely large bathrooms for a house built in the 1930’s with double sinks and separate stalls for showers and toilets. Built in closets with cubbies for every imaginable need. Indoor/outdoor living spaces. Beautifully executed metal work and objects designed by son Ero Saarinen as a young student (he would grow up to design such modern masterpieces as the TWA Flight Center, Dulles International Airport, and the St. Louis Arch).
I left the tour completely thankful that my years in architecture school instilled in me, a profound desire to seek out gems like Cranbrook when I travel — even if only to my home town for a weekend. I can only imagine what it must have been like to go to school here. The Academy has an amazing philosophy on top of all of this beauty — graduate level coursework taken as independent study under a single artist in residence for the duration, with just 150 students across 10 departments. No wonder it has attracted such great minds over the years. I mean, really!
Cranbrook Educational Community 39221 Woodward Avenue
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Art Museum open Wed – Sun 11-5 Saarinen House Tours, Wed – Sat 2PM, Sun 1 & 3PM
more tours and information here